Cats and Company Culture at Cheezburger

September 9, 2014

9:00 am

At our Tech Cocktail Sessions event last week in Chicago, Cheezburger CEO Ben Huh joined us to talk about everything from why entrepreneurs are like cats to his favorite book and other interesting tidbits. Many of the questions from the audience centered on hiring and managing employees, and Huh started to build a picture of the company culture Cheezburger. Here’s what he shared:

Hiring

When hiring, Cheezburger focuses on attitude rather than aptitude. “Aptitude is table stakes – you have to be good at what you do in order to be qualified for the job. But we’re always looking for the person with the right perspective on life and on the world to actually make it through startup life,” said Huh. Cheezburger isn’t like a big company where you get all the answers from your superiors. “Without the right attitude of curiosity and wanting to figure it out, it’s hard for them to be successful,” Huh added.

Management style

It’s fitting that a company with a user-generated, bottom-up approach to content creation also has a bottom-up style of operations.

“What I’m trying to do is . . . give [my team] a destination and say, ‘I don’t actually know how we’re going to get there. I don’t have a strategy for getting there, but we need to come up with it together.’ It’s not my job to give them the answer, or even interfere with their strategy. As long as they’re communicating and working well together, then we will get there,” said Huh. “My job is to make sure that our company culture’s great, that we have enough money in the bank, that I’m advocating for the customer and the long-term interests of the company.”

That bottom-up approach also goes for employees finding new projects to work on and solving problems.

“Employees need to find new opportunities themselves – the company will not always be the one that’s providing it for you. In fact, those employees who find opportunities for themselves are the ones that are going to keep themselves at the company,” said Huh. “What’s really critical is getting your employees involved in the decision-making process . . . when somebody comes to me with a problem, unless I feel like it’s super important and I need to make a decision, usually the answer is, ‘Well, how would you do it?’”

Culture

Huh and his team take culture very seriously, and he knows it’s his responsibility to uphold it. “[At many companies] people say, ‘This is our mission, these are our values’ and put a poster on the wall. What happens is the first time somebody thinks you went against those values, they’ll look at the poster and say, ‘Ha, that’s bullshit.’ And that becomes cynical, and that becomes really negative, and it becomes a point of ridicule,” said Huh. “At Cheezburger, we have our company values, and every time I send out a company-wide email, I thank people according to the values that they exhibited. When we make decisions, we use our company values.”

In other words, culture is something they live by rather than something they advertise. “You can’t market the company culture, you have to use the company culture,” said Huh.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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